A Karen Vail Novel (#6)
Copyright (c) 2014 Alan Jacobson. All Rights Reserved.
AMERICAN FLIGHT 425
QUEENS, NEW YORK
PRESENT DAY: JULY 17
Something was wrong. FBI profiler Karen Vail felt it more than she knew it, but there were times in her career when intuition was all she had to go on. And this was one of those times.
Seated next to her on the Airbus A319 due to take off for Dulles International was her boyfriend, or very significant (and sometimes underappreciated) other, Roberto Umberto Enrique Hernandez, his right arm and hand encased in a hard plaster cast. At six foot seven, he was more than a little cramped in the seat. But Vail did not seem to notice.
“I know that look,” Robby said. When he did not get a response, he said, “That look. I’ve seen it before. You’re worried. And still pissed off.”
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.” Unlike Vail’s demeanor, the flight attendant’s voice was calm, almost uninterested. “Welcome aboard. This is a full flight, so we need everyone in his or her seat as soon as possible so we can close the door and push back from the gate.”
Vail looked over at Robby—and noticed him for the first time since they left the homicide squad. “Yeah, I’m pissed off. Frustrated. Hurt. But what’s bothering me most is that I might’ve made a mistake. I’m not sure. I can’t be sure. And it’s killing me.”
“So you said. Twice. On the way over here.”
Actually, it was five times. Weren’t you listening?
“What’s changed in the last fifteen minutes?”
Vail closed her eyes. “We’re sitting on a plane about to leave town. And I know that once that door closes, I’m not coming back.”
“The way you and Russo left things, I don’t think you’d want to go back even if we got off the plane right now.”
Vail thought about that. Robby’s probably right, but how can I just go home? I pissed off one of the biggest supporters I’ve ever had in my career. My mentor, the guy who put his reputation on the line for me. She opened her eyes and examined the bulkhead. Am I right? Am I wrong? Am I missing something?
She had thought that she was too close to this case, was not seeing it objectively. Maybe it would’ve been better to hand it off to another profiler. But that would mean the NYPD would have to make an official request to the Behavioral Analysis Unit, and she doubted that was going to happen now.
At the moment, there was no time to take a step back and reassess. She was still in New York and they had a suspect in custody.
Vail watched the stewardess talk with the gate attendant. What should I do? Stay or go?
“Maybe I didn’t approach it the right way,” Vail said.
“Wouldn’t be the first time.”
She looked at Robby, her brow knitted in annoyance. “Thanks.”
“Just saying. Yeah, it’s possible. But I don’t think it matters now.”
“I still feel like I should go back.”
“Karen, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Since when did that ever stop me?
Robby nodded toward the front. “Either way, I think the train has left the station. They’re about to close the door.”
“I can’t do this,” Vail said. “I can’t just leave. I can’t live with that.” She yanked open her belt buckle and bolted for the exit.
But Vail did not wait. She ran down the aisle, her FBI creds dangling from her left hand. “Don’t lock that door!”
The flight attendant spun around, her face knotted in confusion—and alarm. “What?”
Vail shoved her brass badge into the woman’s face. “FBI, I need to get off the plane.”
“But—I’m sorry, miss. I just locked her down.”
“It’s agent. And I don’t care if you just closed the door. Open it.”
“I can’t. It’s against FAA—”
“I’m not interested in whatever regulation you’re going to quote. Open the goddamn door or you could be responsible for—”
“Is there a problem here?”
Vail turned—a second flight attendant had come up behind her. She glanced down at his name tag. “As long as she lets me out, Ed, no. There’s no problem.”
Robby cleared his throat, now lined up behind Ed. Robby gave Vail a dubious look. She ignored it and turned back to the woman.
“I’m going to call the captain,” Ed said.
Vail pulled out her BlackBerry and offered it to Ed. “I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you call Douglas Knox? He’s listed on my speed dial under ‘FBI director.’”
VAIL AND ROBBY caught a cab and headed back into the city. She had already placed a call and left a voice mail, but instead of putting the phone away, she started dialing again.
“Now who are you calling?” Robby asked. “For that matter, where are we going?”
Vail paged through the numbers on her device. “I’m calling Russo.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Karen.”
“You keep saying that.”
“Maybe you need to start listening.”
Vail turned to Robby and stared him down. Then she hit a couple of buttons and her BlackBerry connected. After four rings, it clicked to voice mail.
“He’s not answering, is he?”
Vail clenched her jaw, then redialed. On the third ring, Russo answered.
“We need to talk.”
“I’m done talking. Go home, Karen.”
“I was. But I can’t. I feel the need to see this through. And when I feel something, feel it strongly, I can’t walk away.”
“We are seeing it through. The BAU has done its job. Now it’s our responsibility. Go home.”
Vail felt Robby’s eyes fixed on her face. She turned away, toward the side window.
“I— I want to help.”
She heard muffled sounds—a woman asking Russo a question and then him giving orders to someone—a driver?
“Karen, I don’t have time for this. I’m on the way to a scene. I’ll get back to y—”
“Hang on a minute. Another vic? One of ours?”
There was a long silence.
“Russo, is there another vic?”
VAIL WALKED INTO the apartment in the Battery Park City high-rise, Robby bringing up the rear.
The crime scene detective, Ryan Chandler, had just arrived and was setting up shop. He looked surprised to see Vail, but then reached into his kit and tossed booties to her and Robby.
They slipped them on and continued into the room. Russo had arrived a while ago and was talking with Detective Leslie Johnson at the far end of the room. Russo looked up and saw Vail. His expression was a mix of—she wasn’t sure. Embarrassment? Relief at her presence? Annoyance? No matter. This was not about her or Russo; it was about the victim in the other room and their shared imperative to catch the offender before more women turned up dead.
Robby came up behind her and murmured into her ear, “Staring at each other isn’t going to get you anywhere.”
“Right.” Vail walked over to Russo and asked the obvious question: “Is this the same offender?”
“I thought you might want to answer that one for yourself.”
“Looks like the same killer to me,” Chandler said.
She turned to survey the apartment. It was a nice spread, well appointed, everything in its place. Not unlike the other crime scenes.
Vail started in the living and family rooms, getting to know the woman. She glanced at unopened mail on the coffee table and took the victim’s name to be Katherine Stavros.
Greek. Big surprise there.
Vail found the medical examiner, Max Finkelstein, and conferred with him on the time of death.
“Bottom line,” he said, “the guy you got in custody’s good for this.”
His answer clearly pleased Russo, but Vail was less than satisfied. She moved on to a wall that abutted the kitchen, where framed photos were prominently displayed. Vail looked them over and took in the story they told about the victim’s life. Katherine seemed to have traveled a great deal: there were several exterior shots of her in various cities with male and female friends. Many of them looked like the kind of pictures posted to Facebook, iPhone candids of people having fun, sharing a beer or standing on a bridge with a city skyline behind them.
There were posed portraits as well, with what appeared to be family members—parents and great-grandparents, perhaps. Judging by their strong features and olive complexions, Katherine had Greek DNA in her cells.
Vail’s phone rang.
As she started to turn away, her eye caught something. She leaned in closer, then lifted the frame off the wall and examined the photo—
Wait, what the hell?
Vail was trying to work it through her brain as she reached for her BlackBerry.
And then it hit her.
Oh my god.